On April 10, 1916 Jessie wrote in her diary: Such a wonderful time to-day! I was a flower girl. All of Court Square was changed into a flower garden and ever so many of us girls sold flowers all day. I sold a world of carnations, roses and little bouquets. — This is such a wonderful photograph. I believe it was taken by a newspaper photographer and may be the picture that Jessie reported was in the newspaper the day after the market.
Now, going back in time a few months to January and February 1916. Jessie began rehearsals for a big production of The College Hero in January. The performances took place February 15 and 16 and according to Jessie, it was a great success. Jessie was a dancing girl and also a college widow.
Here is one more newspaper clipping, this one of the Fancy Dress Ball given by the Chickasaw Guards on March 7, 1916 (see previous post). Jessie’s picture seems to show up in the newspaper quite frequently! She is in the middle row on the right next to the standing woman. Her date Dr. Coppedge is behind her.
We all know that names become fashionable and go out of style. A naming trend that must have been common in Memphis at the time, at least among Jessie and her acquaintances, was names that can be used by either sex, or names that are typically used for one sex being used by the other sex. Jessie herself has a name that has always been a female name in her family’s history, but it can also be a male name when spelled ‘Jesse.’ Here are some people that Jessie knew:
Ethel – She is Jessie’s cousin and was named for her uncle Ethel (who died young) and grandfather Ethel.
Clinton (called Clint) – a girlfriend from Deeson, Mississippi and the sister of one of Jessie’s beaux.
Aunt Jim – I don’t know who this is, but Jessie mentions her from time to time.
Freddy – a girl in Jessie’s circle of friends who has dated….
Blythe – a guy in Jessie’s circle of friends.
Ashley – a guy.
Bernice – a boy Jessie knows in Gates, TN.
Carroll – a Memphis boy that Jessie knows.
There was another interesting naming tradition in Jessie’s family. Her brother Swayne’s given name was his mother’s maiden name, Jessie Gray Swayne. When Swayne married, that tradition was carried on in his family. One of his sons was given the name Davant, his wife’s maiden name.
The first roof top night club in Memphis opened in 1914. It was the Alaskan Roof Garden on top of the Falls Building, Memphis’ tallest building at the time. Quickly it became a favorite place for Jessie and her friends to go dance. The music was great – W.C. Handy and his band played there regularly and premiered St. LouisBlues there in 1914 – and the breezes off the Mississippi River were cool on those sultry summer nights in Memphis.
Many automobile companies lived and died in the early 1900s. Since I like to keep track of all the kinds of cars Jessie rides in, here are a few more that she named:
Lozier – The family car for one of Jessie’s friends, the Lozier was the top of the line in luxury cars from 1900-1915, and for a time was the most expensive car produced in the U.S.
The American – the American Motor Car Co. was founded in 1906 and went bankrupt in 1913. This car company pioneered the underslung design with the chassis below the axles rather than perched on top.
Buick – Jessie talks about her friend Babe’s big 6 cylinder Buick.
Oakland Roadster – From 1909 to 1932 the Oakland Motor Car Co. operated in Pontiac, Michigan. In 1914 the roadsters the company produced were large 6 cylinder vehicles on a 130″ wheel base.
Packard – A luxury automobile produced by the Packard Motor Car Co. of Detroit, MI. Packard autos were produced from 1899 to 1956.
Ford – Ford produced the Model T from 1908 to 1927. It was advertised as a more affordable automobile. Several of Jessie’s friends drove Fords. Coach Sullivan, one of her beaux, must have driven a large Model T because she calls it his “mighty Ford.” Max Sansing can carry several people in his Ford, but Doug (one of her most serious boyfriends) drives a 2-seater.
If you read Jessie’s diaries, you know that she goes to the “moving picture show” a lot, most days in fact and sometimes more than once a day. She loves the movies. In December 1914 and also in January 1915 Jessie remarked that she had gone to see a Keystone Comedy. Mack Sennett founded the Keystone Studios in 1912 in California. He was the originator of the slapstick comedy routines seen in the Keystone Cops films. Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, W.C. Fields, and Carole Lombard, among others, all worked with Mack Sennett at Keystone Studios early in their careers.
And finally, on Sunday, January 10, 1915, Jessie’s brother Swayne, who was two weeks away from turning 17 years old, got his first real job. Jessie wrote in her diary: Swayne decided he wanted to get out in the woods – to go to work. At noon today Mr. Kerr gave him a splendid position – as rodman for a surveyor across the river from Cairo, Ill. Chappy was over all afternoon and we all helped Swayne pack up. He was gone by supper time. Mother just cried and cried, in fact we all did. Sure will miss Swayne, he is always so bright, and he certainly is a sweet good boy. I sure love him.
Here is another ‘slice of life’ posting, cultural tidbits from Jessie’s life in the Spring of 1914.
On April 2nd, 1914, Jessie wrote in her diary that she and her friends ran from school over to Bowers grocery store at noon to buy food for a picnic lunch. They bought pickles, sweet rolls, adnas, fig newtons, Saratoga chips, chocolate cakes, Tit-bits, and candy. I have not found any reference to adnas in my research, so I have no idea what that is. Fig Newtons have been around for a long time, and in fact were first patented and made in 1891. Saratoga chips are the original potato chips invented in 1853 by Chef George Crum at a restaurant in Saratoga Springs, New York. Tit-bits was a general interest magazine with articles, as the sub-title read, “from all the most interesting books, periodicals and contributors in the world.”Jesse Reno in 1859 and Charles D. Seeberger in 1897 are both credited with inventing the escalator. Reno’s 1859 version was powered by steam. Seeberger, with the help of the Otis Elevator Company, entered his invention in the Paris Exhibition of 1900 where it won first prize. At different times both he and Reno sold their patent rights for the escaltor to the Otis Elevator Company. Jessie notes on April 4th that she and her friend Sara “went through all the 10 cent stores & rode the moving stairs or rather ‘escalator’ in the new Kress.”
Family history says that Jessie’s mother was very funny and often cracking jokes. Jessie had a good sense of humor too. One of the final senior assignments in English class was Shakespeare’s Macbeth. On April 28th Jessie wrote, “I read all of Macbeth this afternoon. When I finished I was sure glad for “If ’twere done, then ’tis done and its good if ’twere done quickly.”
Reading Jessie’s diary I am often reminded that driving and riding in a car in the early part of the 20th century could be dangerous. There was no driver’s ed. or driving school. A driving license cost little and people learned to drive on the road. On the evening of April 25th Jessie notes that they got their car out of the shop. The Latham’s Hudson had been in the shop for a while, and must have had some body work done because the auto was repainted dark blue from its original black. Five days later on April 30th Bud wrecked the car again. At around 11:30 that night he was bringing several of his work colleagues home from working late at the bank (or so he told Jessie) and must have been speeding, because the car skidded out of control throwing several of them out of the car and injuring some of them. Jessie was sure that was the end of their Hudson. The running board and the back wheels were ruined, but the Lathams had their car back from the shop again within a couple of weeks.
I am also reminded that everyone’s health was more fragile in the early 1900s before antibiotics, vaccinations, and sanitation improvements. On Mother’s Day (May 10, 1914), another one of Jessie’s friends died. Susie Fleece was her name, and though Jessie didn’t identify the disease, Susie seems to have died of tuberculosis.
Jessie graduated from Central High School in Memphis on June 2, 1914. She received many presents which she lists in her diary on June 1, 2 and 3 – “a perfectly exquisite diamond ring from mother and dad, a silver card case all filled with money, just beautiful, from Aunt Minnie,” many gold pins, a parasol, stationery, gauze fans, silver hat pins, gold dress clasps, slipper buckles, and so on. As Jessie would say, everything imaginable! On June 1, Jessie took part in her senior class play. They performed Endymion, and though she didn’t specify the author, I believe it was an Elizabethan era play by John Lyly (c.1588) based on the Greek myth. The auditorium was packed and according to Jessie they had to turn hundreds of people away as there was not even any standing room available. There were 83 classmates in the production and Jessie was a Dryad. The next day, June 2, Jessie graduated. Her class sang two songs as part of the ceremony, Glory to Isis ( Aida) by Verdi and The Heavens are Telling by Haydn.
On Wednesday, March 19, 1913, Jessie wrote in her diary: “I went to the Orpheum tonight with Elmo – the show was splendid. Saw and heard the talking moving pictures. They were wonderful. This is the first time they have ever been heard. Edison is certainly a wonderful man. You forget it was only pictures you were looking at and would think it was the persons themselves.” Five days later on March 24, 1913, she wrote again: “Went to the Orpheum to-night with William F. Had the talking moving pictures again, ‘The Temptation Scene from Faust.'” Jessie was a witness to one of the earliest public presentations of a moving picture with sound.
The first known public presentation of a projected moving picture with sound was in Paris in 1900. Thomas Edison had been working on this problem of adding sound to moving pictures since the late 1800s. The three basic problems that Edison and the other inventors who were working on this project had were 1) synchronization of the sound with the visual image, 2) amplification of the sound, and finally 3) producing a good high quality recording. In the late 1800s Edison invented the Kinetoscope. This was a device that a single person could look through to see a short moving picture. Edison had also invented a camera which took many pictures rapidly. Running the film of many separate images past a light source created the ‘moving’ picture. This was the same method used in all movies until the invention of video. Around 1913, using belts and pulleys, he devised a way to sync the sound recorded on a cylinder to the film projector, and this was now called the Kinetophone. The resulting films could only last 6 minutes, limited by the size of the cylinder upon which the sound was recorded. February 17, 1913, Edison debuted this new Kinetophone system (click here to see a Kinetophone film from this presentation) at four vaudeville houses in New York City. The audiences loved it! Jessie and her friends loved it when they saw these films one month later in Memphis. Why then did it take until 1927 for The Jazz Singer, the first talkie feature length film, to appear? In the case of the Kinetophone, a projectionist had to carefully keep the sound and visual images synced by the speed of their manual cranking. Most of the time this didn’t work and the results were sometimes hilarious, but finally frustrating and not worth the public’s money. With the start of World War I in Europe and a fire in Edison’s laboratory in 1914 which destroyed all the original recordings, the Kinetophone was finished after only a year. It took 14 more years until the three basic problems of synchronizing the sound and visual images, amplifying the sound so that it could clearly be heard throughout an auditorium, and making high quality sound recordings was solved. By the 1930s the talkies were everywhere.
On Friday, November 1, 1912, Jessie wrote in her diary that they had a grand time at the dance “…but didn’t stay long because they started ragging.”
This comment, that because the crowd started ragging Jessie and her friends felt they should leave the dance, really made me curious. A few months earlier in the year (on July 9, 1912) Jessie wrote: “Went to a picnic supper and dance at Riverside Pk. this evening with Richard in our car… All that ‘raggy’ bunch went. They are the *society* crowd but they sure do rag.” On July 18th she went to another dance and wrote: “…danced until 2 o’clock but later the crowd got a little raggy.” But on July 27th Jessie seemed to do a little ragging herself when she wrote that a bunch of her friends came over to her house. “We took up the rug in the parlor and danced. Had cake, some class. Sure did have a rag-doll party. Had a grand time.” (I am guessing a ‘rag-doll’ party was a ragging party.)
In 1912 and 1913 the craze that was sweeping the country was ragtime dancing. These were simple dances that anyone could pick up without special lessons, dances such as the Turkey Trot, the Bunny Hug, the Grizzly Bear and the Boll Weevil Wiggle. The “animal dances,” as they were called, shocked genteel America because couples danced alone and held each other, sometimes closely. President Woodrow Wilson actually cancelled the inaugural balls for January 1913 to avoid ‘ragging’ dancers creating a scandal. Even the Vatican got involved. Archbishop Henry Moeller announced that Catholics in the Cincinnati diocese who danced the Turkey Trot and other such dances could not be forgiven for their sins. Some cities banned the Turkey Trot and such at all dances. In Spokane they even considered banning the dances in private homes. At least one scholar wrote a book proclaiming that all these dances were imitating sex actions of the ‘lower animals’ and this is what the dancers are thinking of when they dance the Turkey Trot, Fox Trot, Horse Trot, Fish Walk, Dog Walk, Tiger Dance, Buzzard Lope and Boll Weevil Wiggle. But societal changes have a life of their own and everything is connected. Women’s clothing was becoming less restrictive, dating was done in cars and away from the home, and women would soon get the right to vote. The last remnants of the Victorian Age were disappearing and the cultural separation between men and women was becoming a little smaller. The way the dancers held each other and the energetic and almost improvisatory steps to fast, syncopated music fit the times. The ragtime dance craze would fade away with the onset of World War I to be replaced a few years later with the Jazz Age of the Roaring Twenties.
Here is another collection of cultural tidbits taken from Jessie’s diary. ~
Vaudeville was the biggest form of live entertainment in 1912. All kinds of acts were included in the traveling shows — magicians, dramatic sketches, opera singers, comedians, barbershop quartets, etc. etc. I think Jessie and her friends saw most of the shows that came to town. The Orpheum was one of the theaters she frequented, and it was there on February 6, 1912, that Jessie saw 1,000 Pounds of Harmony – the hefty men of the Primrose Quartette and thought they were “grand.” These gentlemen were quite popular for some years on the vaudeville circuit, and they got their name, as you might guess, because each of them weighed about 250 pounds.
On March 30th Jessie took her friend Willie Swift to the Orpheum to see the show. She especially enjoyed a sketch called The Woman Who Knew. Not everybody enjoyed that act though. A review in Variety (22:6, 4/15/1911) about a performance at the Keith Theatre in Philadelphia had this to say: “The bill at Keith’s was running smoothly and at a good speed until The Woman Who Knew came on stage. Mme. Besson is featured in the Victor H. Smalley piece. According to the program she is a famous portrayer of Zaza and Camille. If this is true, she might be able to get away with a similar role on vaudeville, but as The Woman Who Knew she is hopeless. The sketch has no merit and is badly played.”
Also on March 30th Jessie writes: “Enjoyed being with Willie so much. After the show we bumbed around and saw every-body sporting their new lids. I wore mine of course. It’s real mannish – English shape.” I would love to know exactly what that hat looked like, but instead here are some 1912 advertisements for women’s hats.
By the end of March Memphis was soggy with rain and the Mississippi River was higher than it had been in years. After church on Sunday, March 31st, Jessie and her family drove over to see how the River had risen. “It’s awful,” said Jessie. The Great Flood of 1912 was beginning, and I’ll look at that in my next posting.
In 1911 the Business Men’s Club of Memphis created the first Fall Festival, a 3-day event, September 26-28. On Monday night, September 25th, Jessie and friends “went to town in the machine to see Main Street. It was beautiful, a regular fairyland.” The next day was the opening of the Tri-State Fair, coinciding with the first day of the Fall Festival. Because it was the first day of the fair, children got off school early. Most of them probably went to the afternoon parade celebrating Arts & Industries. On Wednesday there was a parade of the Blue and the Gray, a reunion of old Civil War veterans from both sides who marched together down Main Street. Swayne was a drummer boy in the parade. That was followed by a barbecue in East End Park. Jessie wrote, “Never have I seen so many people down town on one night. The parade was worth it though.” And finally, the last day of the Festival culminated in the grand DeSoto celebration, a historical pageant and parade celebrating the life of the explorer Hernando DeSoto. “It was the most beautiful I ever saw. The floats were all about DeSoto with torches burning on all sides, with fireworks too.”
On September 10, 1911, Jessie mentions that her good friend Sara C. “gave me such a pretty little gold maple leaf, the emblem of Canada.” Sara, whom Jessie often calls Taby or Tab, had recently returned from a trip to Canada.
Egg Creams. Did you know there are no eggs in an egg cream? In the September 30, 1911 entry in her diary, Jessie talks about giving her brother Bud, who is recovering from typhoid fever, an egg cream. This piqued my curiosity. The recipe is actually very simple. Follow this link to watch Martha Stewart preparing a Vanilla Egg Cream.
On March 11, 1911, Jessie wrote in her diary, “Went to the Orpheum with Douglas. It was the best bill that’s been there this year — ‘Twas grand. Antoinette (sic) Kellerman the ‘perfect woman’ was there. She sure was a beaut. Did some classy diving too.” Jessie misspelled her name, probably because she had some very dear family friends named Antoinette. Annette Kellerman was named the “Perfect Woman” reportedly by a Harvard professor who compared the measurements of the Venus de Milo with those of 3000 women, and proclaimed her to be that perfect woman.
She was an amazing woman in many ways. Kellerman (1887-1975) made her name as a swimmer and diver in her home country of Australia. Her parents, both musicians and teachers, were having financial problems, so Annette and her father set off for London. She began to do swimming exhibitions, swimming several miles in the oily Thames, swimming along the English coast from town to town. She went to Europe and did the same, racing 17 men in the Seine and coming in third. In 1905 she became the first woman to attempt to swim the English Channel. She tried and failed 3 times, reportedly saying that she had the endurance but not the strength.
Nevertheless, these attempts brought her great publicity, and she soon came to the States to perform in a giant glass tank in White City, Chicago (a huge amusement park) and the Hippodrome in New York. She performed underwater ballet, something totally new, and became a sensation. Her grace and skill in the water combined with her beauty and personal charisma, as well as the fantasy themes of her productions, eventually made her the highest paid vaudeville star in the U.S.
She also was a pioneer in her silent film career, becoming the first major film star to appear totally nude on screen in A Daughter of the Gods. In one of her films, she choreographed a scene with a large number of actors to perform with her underwater, thus creating the art/sport of synchronized swimming. In 1911 she starred in The Mermaid and became the first screen siren/mermaid with a mermaid costume that she actually swam in. Kellerman made quite a few movies after that with an aquatic theme. She became one of the most powerful women in the silent film industry in the control she exerted over almost every aspect of the films she was in, from script to location to lighting and costumes.
Kellerman also wrote several books on physical fitness and health, but she felt that the most important contribution she made to the world was her invention of the one-piece form-fitting swim suit for women. For hundreds of years women had effectively been banned from swimming because of the bulky and cumbersome attire they were expected to wear. Swimming is very difficult in woolen skirts and pantaloons. At the turn of the 20th century competitive swimming was just becoming popular in Australia, and it was not unusual for women swimmers there to wear the men’s swimming attire – a one-piece jumper with shorts to the mid-thigh and a tank top. This is what Kellerman wore for her swimming and diving exhibitions, and it was shocking to most of the rest of the world. In fact, on a U.S. beach she was arrested for public indecency for wearing such attire. To make her swimsuit more ‘respectable,’ she took a pair of black tights and sewed them to the bottom of the shorts, making the first unitard. This was her famous one-piece swimsuit. Pretty soon all women wanted a form fitting bathing suit. Seeing the demand, and ever an astute business woman, she designed a line of bathing suits with the close fitting short unitard underneath and a close fitting tank top that went to mid-thigh or the knee. These suits became known as Annette Kellermans.
Annette Kellerman was truly an amazing women. An athlete, actress, author, life-long vegetarian, inventor, business woman and visionary, she was an important part of the women’s revolution that was going on at the time – getting the right to vote and freedom from restrictive clothing. Through her career and life, she pushed all women forward toward greater personal responsibility and freedom of choice in all aspects of their lives. There has been much written about Annette Kellerman. For a good introduction to her life, check out the Australian official website page dedicated to Annette Kellerman.
5. Basket ball team or club of which I am “captain”
6. Literary Society of which I am secretary
7. Debating Society
8. Amateur Musical Club.”
Jessie was busy, and as the end of the year holidays and parties approached, her life seemed to speed up. As for the Debating Society, Jessie wrote on November 11, 1910, “The decisions are getting quite monotonous as the affirmative wins every time.” On the day before Thanksgiving 1910, the Debating Society met at the High School for its final debate of the year. The opposing sides would argue either in the affirmative or the negative. The topic: “The Thanksgiving turkey is more important than the Christmas turkey.” Jessie spent the night before plotting the argument for the negative, and was the champion of the evening, winning the judges’ decision.
The next day, Thanksgiving, was an exciting whirl of activity for Jessie. Football games were popular on Thanksgiving, even in 1910. Jessie’s high school team was playing a game and she was chosen as a sponsor for one of the players, and so was in on all the activities for the day. Beginning early in the morning, the players and the sponsors met at the High School and all rode together in a tally ho to the game. After the game they rode in the tally ho all over town giving their “yells.” They ended up at a big supper given by the football team, followed by a show at the Orpheum. No mention of a Thanksgiving turkey with her family. She’s a busy teenager!
Going to musical and theatrical performances, either with friends or her mother, was an important part of Jessie’s life. In early November she saw the famous soprano Bernice de Pasquali, whom she thought “perfectly grand.” About a week later she saw Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore peformed by the Aborn English Grand Opera Co. It was performed in English and Jessie loved it. In December she saw the play The Traveling Salesman with the comedian Frank McIntyre in the leading role. “It was grand… Frank McIntyre was the funniest thing.”
On December 16th, Jessie, her mother, Sara and her mother Mrs. Campbell went to the Fairgrounds to see the return of the Birdmen, as many people called the aviators of the new flying machines. Cosmopolitan magazine called them “Wizards of the air” for their daring feats. One of the aviators who took part in the December Aviation Exposition in Memphis that year was C.K. Hamilton, known to some as “the crazy man of the air.” He was a daredevil and became famous for thrilling the crowds with his stunts. That year in Memphis, Hamilton set a speed record of 79.2 mph, besting his own record of 64.6 mph. Check out this article from General Aviation News for more information about C. K. Hamilton.
December 18, 1910 was Jessie’s 16th birthday. “My birthday! Just think, I am 16 to-day and — never been kissed.” She celebrated by having a dinner party with all her girlfriends. Most of her friends gave her handkerchiefs and books. She received some little gold pins from Swayne and Granny, a book from Bud and a gold necklace from her father. Her mother gave her a pair of blue satin dancing pumps with silk hose, a party hat and a cloak.
Christmas came and went with a swirl of parties and shopping. But when New Year’s Eve came, Jessie turned down all invitations to go out. Instead, her whole family stayed home and welcomed the New Year in.
*Photo credits: Memphis H.S. and High School Annex photos – historic-memphis.com; Il Trovatore – virtualmuseumofcinema.org; Charles K. Hamilton – General Aviation News.
A big event in October in Memphis was the huge production of Jappyland. As Jessie writes in her diary on October 21, 1910, “The cast includes 300 and oh! such acting. They all wore hobble skirts.” My impression is that a small professional cast of actors/singers were augmented by a huge cast of local people. A newspaper clipping about a production in Portland, Oregon in 1913 is headlined Society Folk To Be Seen In Spectacular “Jappyland.” Perhaps something similar happened in Memphis. Jessie and others she knew rehearsed all month for the production, which took place at the Jefferson Theatre on October 28 & 29, 1910. Jessie was a “Geisha maid,” as she put it.
It is very difficult to find, online at least, and from the comfort of my own home, much information about this musical. Jappyland: a Japanese Musical Spectacle. It sounds disrespectful and completely politically incorrect, but we must remember the times. The world was just opening up through faster electronic communications. Airplane travel, which would make the world seem much smaller, was just at its naissance. From the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th century a growing interest in the exotic was expressed in the visual arts (e.g., Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian paintings) and music (e.g., Scheherazade, versions by Rimsky Korsakov and Ravel; the opera Turandot by Puccini). This fascination with the foreign and exotic made its way to the U.S and to our vaudeville and musical formats.
Jessie mentioned that the actresses all wore hobble skirts. Here are some examples.
Another example of exoticism in Alphonse Mucha’s work (and because I like Mucha so much):